THE CONTORTIONS Buy (4 Men With Beards)
Born of the New York No Wave scene, The Contortions sole album, originally released in 1979, might sound Beefheartian to the lazy ear, as James Chances sax and accusatory vocals squawk and yelp through random slashes of slide guitar. Further acquaintance, however, suggests that the bands music approximates what Pere Ubu might have sounded like had they signed to 2-Tone or Stiff the thin, wiry organ behind I Dont Want To Be Happy, for example, is pure Specials or Attractions. The kind of apparently random melodic construction found on the good Captains best albums is absent here; for all their avant garde intentions these songs conform pretty rigidly to common time. Although Chance is all over the shop as he sings at one point, My idea of fun is being whipped on the back of my thighs/I prefer the ridiculous to the sublime I cant quite shake the suspicion that the notes employed could be easily rearranged into something far more harmonious.
At times Buy can be quite fun, in a masochistic sort of way the elastic Contort Yourself, for example, on which Reverend Chance preaches his gospel of non-conformity but over the space of an entire (albeit short) album the appeal wears perilously thin. Being a product of San Franciscoreissue specialists 4 Men With Beards, this pressing of Buy arrives on chunky vinyl, but without the contextualising essays found on some of the companys other releases.
JAMES WHITE AND THE BLACKS Off White (4 Men With Beards)
Released simultaneously with his Contortions-credited album Buy, on Off White White, unsurprisingly, offers more of the same. That is, an elastic funk/free jazz hybrid that sounds like early Talking Heads jamming with Ornette Coleman. Proceedings begin disappointingly, with an almost disco remake of Buys high point, Contort Yourself, stripped of its playful Contort yourself one time/Contort yourself two times countdowns. Stained Sheets follows, an obscene phone call soundtracked by squalling sax and police siren organ. A version of Irving Berlins (Tropical) Heat Wave is less a leap into the bizarre than a lurch towards melody, albeit still sabotaged by Chances crazed horn playing and some rudely inquisitive slide guitar.
Unfortunately the sequencing of Off White divides the album into a side of songs followed by a side of instrumentals, and its the latter that really taxes the patience. These lyricless tracks seem to have no focal point blame it on the basslines, perhaps and soon you start to miss Chances atonal yelping, his atonal alto sax being a poor substitute.
Off White works, if at all, as a companion volume to Buy, but if youre after a single James White purchase you might as well stick with the latter. Nevertheless, as its becoming increasingly difficult to buy these albums separately, you may be spared the choice. Again, this vinyl reissue doesnt display the kind of attention to detail lavished on other 4 Men With Beards releases, perhaps in acknowledgement of its No Wave roots if its pressed on 180 grams of anything, it feels like spittle and shellac.